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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Historical Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
I live in a world where poverty creeps up like the cracks on the walls, where starvation strikes as unexpectadly as death, and needs are as many as the blades of grass across the shimmering meadows. And yet we were happy; we always were. But we should have known that feelings like those don't last that long without something going wrong.

Submitted: April 02, 2017

A A A | A A A

Submitted: April 02, 2017



The earth trembled beneath my feet as I listened to the distant beating of a hundred horses’ hooves. I’ve never heard this many horses at once, and besides we only get the occasional group of Bey’s and Pasha’s stopping by to rest their tired horses or surveying the village like hawks to report back to the sultan. This isn’t normal… for some reason I have a bad feeling about this... I picked up my skirts and raced over from my spot in the wide, forest clearing to one of the bushy shrubs Safiyah was picking fruit at.

“Safiyah? Safiyah we need to go, we need to go now!” I panted, and grabbed her shoulder to turn her my way and was just about to help drag her to feet when I saw the arrow in her chest, and the crimson circle surrounding it.

My face lost all color, and my eyes widened in sheer horror at the sight of my sister. She was already turning cold, and was just like me turning paler by the second. I shook her and shook her and shook her till she must have been sore. But was she still...? I buried my face in her cascading locks whilst cradled her in my arms still stunned into silence.

She was…She was… She was gone. She was gone for good. Gone forever.

No sound, no tear could escape my body. This was too big a blow. I slowly stood up, eyes still glued to her limp body and began backing away, gasping for air as my body battled the panic and picked up a run – a run that I realized was for my life.

As I dashed through the forest, my light steps echoing, the trees blurred in my vision, I felt myself panting… choking for air as the immense fear flooded my brain. I couldn’t think straight, I couldn’t focus on the path I knew so very well.

Safiyah’s shocked, frozen expression with her dark curls framing her face haunted my mind. I collapsed onto the cold ground paralyzed with the impact of all that I had experienced and the sobs finally broke free. I moaned into the grass, molding myself into a ball and rocking back and forth…back and forth between uncontrollable hiccups.

I suddenly felt a set of strong, wide hands grasping me under the shoulders and dragging me up as if I were a child, as a reeking stench of ale enveloped me. I began blinking away the tears in time to the pounding of my heart with the new fear arising within me – this time of the stranger.

“There you are, you little minx!” he spat. “Think you could run off like that without being caught?” he chuckled with his harsh, gruff voice as he revealed his nasty rows of perfectly yellowing teeth - just a couple inches from my quivering face.

I started to scream and squirm in his grasp but his steely arms wouldn’t budge against my feeble writhing.

“Ahmed shut her up will you, and tie her hands and gag her whilst I hold her down. You’re not going anywhere girly – and if I were you I’d shut that little trap of yours before I knock it shut, YOU HEAR ME!?

The smaller boy Ahmed did as he was told and tied my hands behind my back and used a dirty scrap of cloth he hastily ripped off his shirt for my mouth that tasted of sweat and horses.

I didn’t know who these men were, and what they were going to do with me but from the flashing pin bearing the three white circles attached to the bulky man’s scruffy turban; I could tell they worked on the Sultan’s orders. My screams were easily muffled, so I stopped and kept quiet – scared of angering them. I couldn’t stop the electric pulses of panic shooting through my limbs as I racked my still brain for an idea to give me some chance of escape.

The wide man now let go of me, and handed me over to Ahmed entirely ordering him to hold me still whilst he fetches the others. I took deep breaths as I waited for the bulky man to disappear entirely and seized my only chance at escape with the significantly less bulky and feebler looking Ahmed. I spun around, and before he could react; lifted my knee up hitting him square in the crotch – hard.

“AARRGHH you blasted girl, WHATEVER THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU?!” he howled, already doubled over clutching his precious groin. I grabbed my moment of freedom and bolted the opposite direction to which Ahmed’s accomplice took. I couldn’t run properly at all; my arms throbbed from the wide man’s violent grasp on me and they were tied behind my back making it harder to gather speed, let alone run at all!

However weak Ahmed may have been he wasn’t dim at all; he was already yelling after the fat man.

“SALIM, SALIM! SHE’S GONE! GET BACK, WE NEED TO FIND HER…SHE WENT THAT WAY! Ahmed pointed in the direction I was running in as Salim bustled back to him. He paused next to the groaning Ahmed, smacking him across the face causing him to grunt in pain as he thumped onto the ground like a pear. Salim then took off behind me, not bothering to climb onto his horse as I hadn’t gotten far away with the way Ahmed had tied me up.

I tried picking up my pace and pushed in the last of my strength as my whole body fought to flee, but it wasn’t enough as Salim despite his impressive weight caught up with me, and with brute force struck his balled fist just next to my chin, sending me flying onto the masses of protruding tree roots with a heavy thud.

Everything went black…




I woke to the soft whining of a shaky voice somewhere near me. Where am I? What just happened? The surge of pain in my chin and my heart reminded me of the events that had happened not very long ago and I peeled my eyes - instantly feeling and noticing the heavy chains clamped to both of my ankles and wrists. It was very heavy…and I was already regretting my awakening as the areas with the chains tightly clamped onto my body were throbbing and pulsating with pain.

My entire body was aching and the odd jostling about I could feel, really wasn’t helping. Looking around me I saw about fifteen other girls, piled alongside me and I saw that we were in a miniature cage placed on wheels being pulled by two trotting horses. I noticed Salim stationed on the bench above us, holding the reins, sitting in a triumphant and authoritative position whistling to himself. I recognized the Sultan’s men, all in matching uniforms bearing Bakar’s crest on their turbans riding on horseback surrounding our carriage. All of them expressionless, and all of them gazing into the distance probably wishing they didn’t have to be here. The thick rusty bars blocking us from the rest of the world were just wide enough for me to stick my arm – perhaps even my leg through but was nowhere near wide enough for me to slip through entirely.

I had the metallic taste of my own blood lingering on my tongue, and the air around me was putrid.

I doubted all of the girls cramped into this cage were alive…

Piled on top and over and next to each other like discarded scraps of cloth – just as thin, just as frail. Some of them lay unconscious, wrapped with gradually accumulated layers of dirt and it was hard to tell which were sleeping… and which weren’t.

I felt like an animal, a felon, squished behind these bars unwillingly and being taken somewhere unknown, most likely destined to die.

What have I done to deserve this fate? What did Safiyah do to deserve her fate?

I couldn’t think, I couldn’t cry anymore, I lost all emotion.

The girls around me were all either unconscious (I supposed knocked out as I was) or leaning against the bars barely alive, or whimpering like the girl next to me. She had a short wavy bob of jet black hair with an overgrown fringe, and although she was covered in dirt like the rest of us, with tears staining her face; she somehow still managed to look beautiful.

“Are you alright?” I asked her carefully; she was clearly a new addition like me if she still had the energy to cry.

She paused, and slowly lifted her head to gaze up at me with her green, glassy eyes, and her chin and lower lip suddenly started trembling again: this time out of fear.

“I won’t hurt you! Really there’s no need to be frightened, I’m imprisoned like you and… I want to help.” I added quickly, desperately trying to comfort her. I used to hate seeing Safiyah upset, it made me feel uneasy and…guilty.

“I…” she started “I’m Cerena…from…Eraclea” She sniffled between sobs, anxiously speaking up.

“My name is Zaia” I replied slowly “I’m from here – from Bakar.”

“They killed my father.” She whispered suddenly, staring into space - eyes wide. “He tried stopping them when they were taking me. They burnt down our house. My baby brother trapped inside with my mother. They’re…..they’re gone…just like that…” and she began quietly weeping again, this time leaning against my shoulder feeling more comfortable in my presence.

I held the foreign girl in my arms, and gently stroked her silky hair, and patted her back like I used to do with Safiyah. Just thinking about her made me want to join Cerena in crying, but…I couldn’t…I had no more strength; and so instead continued to pat the girl and comfort her instead.

Cerena eventually stopped crying, and we just sat there holding each other as if we were safer that way, depressingly staring at nothing, absorbed in our thoughts, and altogether losing track of time.

Misery and self-sorrow were the early stages of anguish we had to endure. After being left with no energy for emotion; the true torture caught up with us. Hunger and thirst physically and mentally tortured us. We lay like limp sacks of bones in in those same places – all of us for what seemed like weeks… maybe months… could it be a year already? I don’t know – none of us do. The occasional murky water we shared with the horses was a luxury that held on to our now meaningless lives. New girls – new prisoners were picked up along the Eraclean border and in Bakar, as we made our way to the Sultans palace which Salim had at some stage announced to us.

Ahmed I noticed was nowhere to be seen.

Each day that passed was another piece of our souls and sanity stolen away from us. Three girls died… probably of starvation. Their deaths would have been silent yet slow, and we would find out through the rotten air flowing through our airways and insects from within the wood beneath us and wildlife around us; feasting on the decomposing carcasses. Their bodies were never removed. Cerena fainted at the first infestation, and I vomited through bars onto the squelching, muddy ground. All we had was each other now, and just as we would start to get familiar and used to ourselves – someone would die. Our savage captors did not seem to mind about what went on in our cage, and I hadn’t the energy to get angry. No one did.

Not even the most wanted criminal in Bakar would deserve to suffer like this.

One girl named Fatima tried to take a bite from the thigh of one of the dead girls. Another one pulled her back before she could try again. We were so desperate for food, for survival, that something inside of us was taking over and bringing out the worst in us, and Cerena and I were praying for our sanity to remain with us.

My head sometimes felt dizzy… constantly somewhere else, and my thoughts went in circles. Am I going mad? Is all this reality? When will Safiyah wake me from my nightmare?

Despite the occasional moments we both just wanted to let go, Cerena and I kept fighting, and we were not about to give up after being stuck there for so long.

After what felt like an eternity, we spotted the pearly palace walls gleaming in the distance and I squeezed Cerena’s hand, the fear that had died down into misery these past weeks; reignited. Salim muttered something to the guards at the back entrance and the gates swung open granting us passage inside.

Our wagon stumbled into a small courtyard with plain, brown and beige tiles and large, airy openings and balconies on all four sides. Delicate, translucent curtains of all colors danced out the windows on the gentle breeze, the glaring sun baking the courtyard with its heat. A small crowd of… probably servants dressed in dull, subtle shades was waiting beside a group of elegantly dressed girls about our age in long flowing dresses and matching hijabs looking simply stunning, but wearing militant expressions.

They created a fierce-looking rainbow.




 “My name is Melek Kalfa, and from now on you are under my command. You are here to be trained into good-mannered, mature, and sophisticated young women that will become a part of the Sultan Ayman Kadim’s Harem. Some of these young women before me were in your place a month ago, others have maintained their positions for years now. Use them as an example. Your lives now belong and are devoted to the Sultan. Now come out, and you will be given food and water and will then be bathed and clothed.”

This was not at all what Cerena and I were expecting… The way we were treated made us think we had done wrong, and were here to be punished. This was all amazing; we were about to be treated like princesses, about to live like royalty compared to how we have been living up until now, getting to meet and regularly see the Sultan – what else could any girl in Bakar want?

So why was I doubting it?

We hadn’t stood up in weeks so we all felt like toddlers learning how to use our legs. We were weakened and tortured for such a long time. I realized this could not be undone or forgotten so easily, no matter how many more delightful surprises like these came along. We hobbled out of the carriage, single file, and as I looked over my shoulder I saw Fatima; dead next to three other girls. An image of Safiyah’s ghostly body flashed in front of my eyes lying next to the other, young, innocent souls of the wagon.

I grabbed at one of the wagon bars once I had climbed out, steadying myself, taking breaths in and out trying to shake away the memory. I slowly opened my eyes again, and gingerly walked over the Cerena holding on to her for comfort and the balance we were both failing to find.

Past a large, open arch intricately carved with the tiniest most detailed designs I imagined would have taken years to achieve; lay the grand Harem. Along two walls that were opposite each other, were rows of thin blankets and plump pillows – 20 along each wall. This I presumed was the sleeping area. In the center of the huge room were wide, but low-placed tables bedecked with food we could only dream both in the wagon, and at home. Wide platters of fruit brought in from far beyond Bakar rested alongside, bowls of rice, endless types of meat curries sat in large pots with ladles prepared large enough to fit both of my fists. Several exotic drinks in shining silver and copper jugs were also laid out. We had yet get used to this. Beautifully patterned and colored pillows of glittering gold and dazzling ruby surrounded the many tables spread across the room, and an expensive leopard skin draped across the floor in one corner.

I couldn’t blink. I couldn’t close my eyes – I didn’t want to close my eyes for this surpassed all of me and Safiyah’s dreams back home. I didn’t know places like these existed. Am I dead? For this feels like the heaven people always talk about! Cerena clutched my arm the entire time, and I think she must have forgotten it was there for she was just as entranced as I was. After all of us girls had a good look around, we sat down at the tables along with the other girls that were already there and dove into the awaiting food.

Rich flavors cruised through my mouth and oodles of spices crawled down my throat. I wished that I could save these moments and bring them back to me whenever I wanted because I never wanted this feast to end. No matter how full I was, I kept stuffing myself with as much of the exquisite food as I could.

I reminisced upon the watery, tasteless soups back at home with the occasional fruit Safiyah and I would wander around the dense forest looking for almost every morning. We considered ourselves fortunate compared to other villagers who had nothing to put on their plates far too often, but we too struggled to fill ours. Winter in the Northern parts of Bakar I knew as home, were cruel and harsh but mostly unpredictable. One year we lost our entire harvest and had almost nothing to eat for weeks and another year we had food to last us the full season. Here in the south they don’t suffer the same winters - and even if they did, food would never be a problem. Now it perhaps won’t be for me neither.

Cerena and I sat with two other girls called Aysha and Yasmine. Aysha had shoulder-length hair that to me looked like a lion’s mane because it was very frizzy, and was held in very tight and very small curls that stuck out in every direction. I imagined her getting shocked by the bright light of the storm and her hair just staying that way forever. Her unusual blue eyes gleamed amongst her thick, black hair and her eyebrows tended to furrow a lot as she spoke with her coral lips. Aysha was breathtaking, and I understood why she was brought here. Yasmine’s long narrow face lit up with her light brown eyes that matched her chestnut-colored hair. Her hair was as soft as the silk the very Sultan must wear, and there is no hint of a curl or a wave in her completely straight hair that leads all the way down to her slim waist. She was gorgeous.

I was beginning to understand why Salim picked all of the girls that were in the wagon. They were all, in their unique way stunning girls that Salim must have known the Sultan would like. Looking at the girls already here only confirmed this; they are all dazzling.

So why am I here?

Melek Kalfa took us new girls to wash in the Harem’s bathing quarters just next to the main Harem hall. Every inch of the luxurious quarters was covered in aquamarine blue - white tiles hand painted with great care and detail. There were pools of both warmed and cooled water to dip ourselves in, and steaming wooden buckets of hot water were prepared for each of us to wash with.After stripping down naked, our clothes were disposed of and we used the bucket waters to cleanse our faces and bodies with, finally ridding ourselves of the dirt and the stench of the carriage. We were then also given the softest, whitest linen cloths to wrap around, and dry ourselves in. This truly was heaven. I remembered the cold, sometimes dirty river we would have to bathe in back at home where the jagged rocks scraped our feet raw, and the large boulders would make us trip over and over again.

But for all its faults and imperfections; I missed it. And I wanted it back. I wanted Safiyah back.

We would quickly scrub and scrub at our bodies – desperate to get out of the water as fast as we could. Once all the flowers had bloomed and the white coats had fallen, with our bodies entirely drenched with stickiness we’d throw ourselves in without a second thought. I’d spray clouds of water at Safiyah, who’d immediately charge right back at me with her own fierce wave of droplets. The boys and girls of the houses around would rush over to join in and soon we’d have the full pack of our village’s children shrieking and bouncing about; the razor-sharp rocks beneath us easily forgotten. Aria…home…I missed it all so very much. We were all one big family – taking care of each other, looking out for each other, going through everything together. Safiyah was not my only sister; all of the Arini girls were my sisters as the boys were my brothers. For all we suffered and all we lacked; I never knew what instability and no sense of security felt like.

Well… I did now, and I wasn’t ready for it. Not one, little bit.

“Girls come on out now!” Melek Kalfa ordered. “Remove the cloths at once! You don’t need to hide yourselves - we are all women here! Iman, take their cloths and hang them out to dry. Now girls follow me.” She commanded and she turned swiftly and marched back into the Harem with us awkwardly following.

“Here are some dresses for you to each choose only ONE from. This will be your prettiest dress – unless of course you move up or the Sultan gifts you one. You will have other, plainer dresses for everyday use. Not every day is a banquet fit for royalty” She muttered this last bit under her breath, as she informed us about the clothes situation. Almost none of the girls even heard as they all rushed towards the dresses before she could finish and started gushing at them; oohing and aahing at the fine fabrics and vibrant colors.

Cerena, Aysha, Yasmine and I couldn’t help ourselves either; we ran towards the dresses and immediately started picking them up and putting them against ourselves, stroking the materials, and searching for the best color combinations. Cerena ended up choosing an airy emerald-colored gown that matched her eyes and made them stand out and sparkle, along with a paler green slightly translucent hijab to go with it. Yasmine chose a pastel pink flowing dress with delicate ruffles near the shoulders and hemline as well as a matching hijab. Aysha, similarly to Cerena chose a dress that matched her sparkling eyes; a grand sapphire garment that trailed behind her, colored in certain areas white creating a perfect mixture of colors with her also white hijab. I, picked scarlet stained dress that slunk off the shoulders but wrapped around my upper body tightly, erupting past the waistline into a magnificent flowing skirt that just about touched the ground. My hijab was a corresponding burgundy which allowed the few locks of my escaped sun kissed hair to glow even more than usual.

All of us newcomers were completely transformed after a good meal, cleanse, and polishing – we blended in entirely with the other girls in the Harem.




 “Oh my goodness, oh my goodness, GIRLS! Quick - gather round; I didn’t think the sultan would be here so soon! He could have sent a servant a little earlier but that’s irrelevant! He is on his way and should be here any minute!” Melek Kalfa blurted looking utterly flustered.

“WOW Zaia! We’re actually meeting the Sultan isn’t this crazy?” Yasmine whispered excitedly in my ear.

“Yes I guess…I don’t really know what to expect! I have never met or seen a royal before this is odd but exhilarating!” I whispered back, but I couldn’t hold back the strange unease that crept through my body.

“Alright girls we haven’t had much time, but just remember: speak only when spoken to, be polite and well-mannered, and look pretty! Now quick form a line and remember to cur- Oh you don’t even know how to curtsy! Dalia come here and show them!” Melek Kalfa spoke fast as she told us these vital pieces of information. Dalia, the girl Melek Kalfa called on was a magnificent thing with jet black hair that carried herself with an air of superiority, and a certain confidence that ignited her flaming character. With mastered ease and grace she demonstrated the curtsy perfectly, and we all desperately tried to copy. It was surprisingly hard to not trip over our dresses, or muddle up the footing but it was the best we could do. Melek Kalfa suddenly shushed us all, and we heard the steady footsteps of the Sultan coming towards us as we all rushed to our places and obediently waited.

Sultan Ayman Kadim emerged from around the corner in his full glory wearing an intricately woven turban of grey, studded with one large impeccably abraded tanzanite 3 inches above his forehead. His face was round and full, but not plump and his hazel beard reached just below his Adam’s apple. His robe was filled with the tiniest patterns of gold and white, and was made from the softest silk and the most expensive fabrics available as nothing else could have looked so majestic. He swished past us not even taking a glance at his new girls, rushing straight to Dalia to kiss her forehead, and greet her. She was obviously his favorite, and she wore a smugly satisfied grin that suggested she was well aware of the fact. He then took a step back from her and slowly walked past our line observing and looking each and every one of us deep in the face…past the face it felt like… as if he was searching for something – something specific.

He stopped abruptly, directly in front of me and took a step forward. As he stared into my eyes I couldn’t help getting goose bumps; something didn’t feel right. Taking a step closer, he reached out towards a stray lock of my golden hair and stroked it, ever so slowly, still maintaining heavy eye contact from which I didn’t dare break free from. One corner of his mouth rose to form his mouth into a faint smile as he continued to bore his eyes into me. I could also feel the eyes of the other girls gaping over at me as none of them had gotten any attention apart from Dalia.

“Nice…very nice” he muttered absentmindedly my way, and finally broke his gaze moving it to my hair and clothes. He stretched a jeweled finger on his right hand and ran it up my neck to my chin making me shiver uncomfortably. He continued to cautiously move it along my jawline from where he made his way to my hijab, which he gradually tugged down. I heard a gasp somewhere down the line of girls. Grabbing handfuls of my hair, he started stroking it and brushing his fingers through it as if they were a comb. He then stepped back, and resumed eye contact, and I couldn’t help noticing a glint in his eye… a manic glint that brought back the goose bumps.

“What is your name?” he asked suddenly.

“I’m Zaia” I murmured, silently begging him to leave already. I don’t know what it was; but I didn’t want the man around me Sultan or not.

“You can’t possibly be from Bakar!” he continued, further investigating me.

“Well, my father is Bakarian, but my mother is from Draconia” I admitted, hoping he would finally leave now.

“I knew it!” he declared, triumphant with himself like a small child would be over nothing. “You are a rare one indeed. You are invited” he proclaimed, and with that he turned his back on me and marched out of the Harem not bothering to look at the rest of the girls waiting and leaving me extremely confused.

As soon as he left the hall burst into loud chatter and crowd of eager girls surrounded me asking me how speaking with him was, how I felt, what actually happened. I couldn’t answer a single question – I was completely dazed and dumbfounded. I didn’t know myself what had just happened. I needed space, I needed to be alone, I needed to think over this and process it. But one thing was for sure: that man is mental and I don’t want any of it.

Melek Kalfa walked up to me, and I saw her smile for the very first time. It was a smile of pride and admiration. “I must say Zaia, I am very impressed.” She admitted, nodding at me with a wide smile. “Sultan Ayman’s Harem has gone through multiple sets of girls and he has never stopped by a single girl during the first meeting – and talked to her. You’ve done very well.” She continued still nodding at me.

“Thank you Melek Kalfa, that means a lot. But, I’m not exactly sure what the Sultan has invited me to?” I asked truthfully, and even though my first impression has lead me to dislike the man, it hasn’t stopped my curiosity from coming through.

“Aaaah!” she giggled, full of knowing. “This is what the Sultan says to one girl of his choice each week, and that one lucky girl has been chosen to spend an evening alone with his majesty.” She explained, giving me little wink at the end.

My face turned the same pale green as Cerena’s hijab, and my palms grew clammy. I stammered away my thank you’s, and in the most lady-like way I could manage; bolted straight for bathing quarters where I toppled over onto the ground, and threw up in a chamber pot.




I breathed in and out, in and out slowly; calming myself down. What I had just heard was not at all what I was expecting but I now curse myself for being so foolish. Why else would a Sultan have a Harem of beautiful, young, girls? What else would he be intending to do with them?

It all makes sense now, it clicks in my brain… but the truth scares me, and makes me feel vulnerable, fragile, and worthless all at the same time. People all over Bakar look up to our Sultan and praise him, but what would they think of him if they knew what he did to women. If they knew how he closed-mindedly sees them as useful for two things: pleasure and procreation. That is all the use women have to the Sultan.

I know women are seen as less intelligent, less capable, and less everything! But I cannot bear the idea of having to endure something like this. And I have decided that I WILL NOT. I was fuming with rage as I sat there on the damp floor, next to my pot of vomit.

The man had made me literally sick.

“Poor little Zaia.” Came a sarcastic voice behind me. “So naïve, so, so very naïve. I almost feel sorry for you. But I don’t.” The voice went on, filled with a sarcastic nastiness. I turned around to see Dalia glaring down at me, eyes pouring out her seething jealousy and hatred.

“You need to stop doing whatever you’re doing and let go of MY Ayman.” She commanded, jumping straight to the point. “I am the one that has been with him the longest, I am the one that has given him a child, I AM THE ONE HE WANTS!” she screeched in my face, losing her composure and her temper altogether to my great astonishment.

She stood there face flaming, eyes sharing the same manic glint I saw in the Sultan as he looked me over like a prize. I could almost see her hair electrifying and standing on end like an outraged cat, still managing to look down at me. The seconds lazily ticked by, and neither of us moved. We were both just standing there rooted to the spot; I too frightened to move, Dalia already scheming for her next move. But I could see that for every moment longer of glaring at me, it was infuriating her even more. I wasn’t blind. I could see it coming before she struck, but I gathered the courage to move a second too late. She had already pounced.

She extended both hands towards my head and grabbed hold of thick tufts of my precious hair, and starting yanking, and yanking, and yanking away whilst I shrieked and clawed at her body; trying to pry off her vengeful fingers. It brought me back to my moment with Salim in the woods. My desperate attempts were as useless as pleading her to stop.

To my own surprise I had not completely lost my senses whilst I clawed and kicked back at her for I figured if I screamed loud enough; another girl, or Melek Kalfa or any servant would hear and come rushing to see what was happening. She must have figured this too; as she started aggressively dragging me and tugging me by my hair to a nearby decorative fountain whilst I screamed myself hoarse.

Even though I kicked, I clawed, I grabbed, I yelled; I was no match for Dalia who easily got me to the fountain, into which she roughly dunked my head in, still holding on to most of my hair.

She was going to kill me… she was trying her best to. A panic like no other inflated my chest as I gasped for the air I couldn’t get to. The water blinded my eyes, splashed down my airways and gushed up my nose. I needed to breathe… I needed a… I need… I… breathe… just one… a little breath…I’m going to die soon. Maybe it won’t be so bad; at least I’ll get to see Safiyah and we can play and dance and sing and we can – I’m losing myself; why am I seeing the sun? Since when do fountains shine lights in my eyes…what’s happening? I can see the sun…the sun is there calling on me…waiting with Safiyah.

NO! I’M LOSING MYSELF… BUT I WANT TO LOSE MYSELF… I want to go back to Safiyah, see the sun again, laugh and smile as we run through the meadows…

My body went still – utterly limp. I could see the clouds parting ahead of me, welcoming the glimmering sun into my eyes, the taste of happiness on my tongue, and the smell of joy and… It’s all gone…

I was back at the fountain and something broke free inside me. It was like a little treasure chest somewhere deep, down within collecting and storing power through the years, waiting for the right moment to break free. This was that moment. My arm somehow managed to find its way out the water and I thrust my fist into Dalia’s stomach with such a great force only a God – a supernatural being could bear.

Her beastly grasp instantly slid off my head and my body as I saw her somewhere out the corner of my eye sailing backwards. She plunged through the air like an arrow, as if struck by an extreme force of some kind. I flung myself out the water, immediately gasping and choking on the air I was finally getting. I crashed down onto the hard ground coughing out gulps of water I had swallowed during my struggle, and I sat there like that for ages clearing my airways and getting enough of the air my body had missed out on for far too long. I calmed myself down, coughed out the last bits of water, and got used to the air as it resumed its flow across my body. My hammering heart also gradually relaxed, but I was still unable to move.

The fast series of events that had happened to me where by far the most difficult I had ever gone through and I was stilled stunned into silence. How and why have I survived? Is this even possible?

The endless questions circulated through my head, but I still couldn’t make sense of anything that had happened. I glanced over at Dalia who lay motionless; a ragged doll leaning against the large dent and creeping cracks in the tiled wall I had driven her body into. Her head hung sideways dripping large ruby beads into the already spilt pool of blood beneath her. Black and bloodshot; her eyes gaped out of her dead body, fixed directly on me.

Maybe… No… It couldn’t be… Have I … Did… Yes. I did. I truly did. It all just suddenly made sense. I had DIED in that fountain. My body had gone completely still. For a good couple of moments I was dead, already seeing and walking the pathway to heaven. But it all vanished so suddenly and I was back in this world sending Dalia cascading into the wall with a Godly strength.

God had exchanged her life for mine.


Melek Kalfa stormed into room after a couple minutes. “Girls? What in the world is going on here what is –“she stopped dead in her tracks, frozen to the spot as she took in the entire seen. Me sitting slumped by the fountain looking like I had walked out a sand storm, Dalia drooping down straight across from me, quite clearly dead.

“GUARDS!!!” she roared towards the doorway to the Harem where the nearest guards were stationed. “GET HER OUT OF MY SIGHT NOW! Throw her in the dungeons where she belongs whilst I inform the Sultan and see if he has changed his mind about his invitation for Zaia. IMAN??! Get over here.” She hollered, this time calling for her head servant. “Clean up this mess with the rest of the servants, and wrap the body up in a cloth to take the Sultan. He’ll want to see what has happened to the mother of little Naima.” She stated sullenly, looking down at Dalia with a pained expression. She didn’t even bother throwing a foul look at me. Her fierce tone said it all. I let myself be taken by the guards.

What else could I do? I get a second chance at life, and it’s about to be gone just like that. I sighed, cursing myself for hitting her back so hard – but I doubted I was in control of that. It just came flowing out; and it happened. A life gone and a life saved, as fast as the click of a tongue. I was lead through a maze of various corridors – plain ones with no color, barely any light. These might be the servant’s corridors… or just the pathways to the dungeons. As I trudged on, held by the two guards on both my sides we walked past the side entrance to the stables, where I saw what looked like an endless line of the finest, most magnificent Arabian horses gold could buy. Why was I surprised? We are in the Sultan’s palace after all. But I suddenly got an idea.

As I was taking my next step forward, instead of bring my foot down to the ground as I normally would whilst walking; I swung it sideways with an abrupt jerk of my leg causing the guard on my left to be swung off his feet which went flailing behind him, leaving him to fall down in the 90 degree turn – flat on his face. The other guard loosened his grip on me as he was caught by surprise with the crash of his companion, making it easier for me to elbow him in the face with a similar power I used to strike Dalia – a power I was getting used to – which was enough to knock him the life out of him completely. He was already dead as he spun through from the impact of my hit. The other guard I merely tripped, so I took my chance as he lay groaning on the ground, lifting my leg up into the air above his upper back; and then bringing it down with mighty blast with which his entire body was rammed into the floor breaking it clean and whacking him dead.

I couldn’t believe myself. My instincts just took over the moment I saw the stables and I stood there for a moment, over the two dead guards, gaping at what I had done and my new, immense power.

I knew what to do next. I tore through the corridor, retracing our steps back to stables. When I reached the entrance, I could see five horses tied to a tying post all saddled up and ready to go. I smiled. How I had missed riding. I chose the beautiful black horse on the far right, with a long flowing tail and a glistening mane. I hastily untied the reins from the smooth wooden post, and launched myself onto the young stallion. I stroked his velvety coat and for a while just sat there admiring its beauty completely forgetting where I was.

“HEY! THERE SHE IS!” a voice from the entrance to the stables called out and I immediately remembered where I was. I grabbed the reins and started into a steady gallop, quickly accelerating into a canter. As we raced out of the stables and into the wild, brilliant freedom of the world I couldn’t help laughing out loud. I have escaped the horrors of palace life, and I have emerged as a completely new; transformed Zaia into the wonderful world that has long awaited me. I am free – finally free! My drenched, half-fallen hijab flew off my head at some point and my hair fluttered behind me, as the howling wind rang through my ears and dried out my mouth.

I clutched the reins with both hands and leaned forward, my eyes squinting into the distance at the terrific gradient of rusting roses fanning out into every direction. My blazing black beauty and I bound together as we rode into the distance, chasing the sunset.

© Copyright 2020 M.I Stastny. All rights reserved.

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